Disconnect in Muni vandalism reports

Anyone who has been in the back of a 30-Stockton bus knows that Muni vehicles are a magnet for amateur graffiti artists.

The floor, ceilings, windows and seats provide a perfect canvas for taggers who have no qualms about defacing public property. Along with the aesthetic issues of graffiti, the vandalism is extremely expensive — the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, spends $11 million annually in abatement and cleanup measures.

To deal with the problem, the SFMTA established a dedicated text message line that allows riders to discreetly report graffiti and vandalism. Passengers are instructed — through verbal announcements piped through buses — to text the four-digit number of the bus. The alerts are then forwarded to the Police Department.

There was just one problem: The line did not work.

Although the number — (415) 770-4455 — was established in early September, the SFMTA did not receive any text messages, according to spokeswoman Kristen Holland. At first, the agency thought that riders were not taking advantage of the resource. After The San Francisco Examiner inquired about issues with the line, the SFMTA’s technical department said the number was not set up to receive text messages. Last week, the agency finally made the corrections so that it could receive texts.

Muni rider J Morgan, who travels on the 8X-San Bruno line, said he frequently used the text-message line to report acts of vandalism, but never saw any response. When informed that the line was not operating properly, he said the malfunction was typical of the SFMTA.

“I’m kind of getting sick of Muni,” Morgan said. “I’m trying to help, but they’re not helping themselves.”

Tom Nolan, president of the SFMTA’s board of directors, said important customer resources such as the text-message line deserve enough oversight to ensure they are working properly.

“This is definitely one of those things where you ask, ‘Who’s in charge of these things?’” Nolan said. “Hopefully we can get some answers about this.”

Despite the setbacks with the text-message line, the SFMTA remains committed to fighting vandalism on its transit vehicles.

“The expense of graffiti and vandalism is a very costly demand on our resources and undermines the SFMTA’s continual effort to improve Muni service,” said John Haley, the agency’s transit director.  “We continue to work closely with the SFPD in their investigations of vandalism, and I encourage Muni customers to help us combat the defacement of this valuable city asset.”

Since September, the agency has been making in-ride announcements about the text message line. Holland said the SFMTA plans to roll out a more extensive promotional package about the service soon.

 

Texting the tag

Muni established a text-message line for passengers to report vandalism. However, the line was not able to receive messages until The San Francisco Examiner inquired about problems and they were fixed.

  • $11 million: Annual SFMTA spending on graffiti abatement and cleanup
  • Early September: When SFMTA began notifying passengers of its graffiti text message line
  • Nov. 18: Date service actually began accepting text- messages
  • $11.99: Monthly cost of the line

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